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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC



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India-US-Japan joint military exercises

Jul. 26, 2017

India conducted joint naval drills with the United States and Japan this month in the Indian Ocean region. The Malabar exercises were the largest since such activities began in 1992. They indicate India is concerned about China.

18 ships and submarines from India, the US and Japan took part in the exercise.

On the final day, the media were invited to view the activities aboard the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier.

A Japanese destroyer and an Indian aircraft carrier sailed alongside the US ship.

"Malabar is intended not to send a message to any particular country. It is only for training," said the Indian Eastern Naval Command's Vice Admiral Harish Bisht.

But some experts say the exercise was aimed at China.

Indian media say a Chinese surveillance vessel may have entered the Indian Ocean to monitor the drill.

The Indian Ocean is vital to India in terms of oil transport and national security. But China keeps pushing forward with building ties with pro-China countries such as Bangladesh and Pakistan by investing in, and getting access to, port facilities there. China also has funded the maintenance and sought the management rights of a port in southern Sri Lanka.

The port is part of China's initiative called "One Belt, One Road," which is President Xi Jingping's plan for a vast economic zone. Three years ago, a Chinese submarine also visited Sri Lanka's largest city of Colombo.

This military presence in the ports surrounding India could allow China to dominate the sea lanes and threaten India’s security.

Last month, Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi met with US President Donald Trump. Modi said that he wanted to strengthen their security ties.

India also wants to bolster its naval forces by deploying new destroyers and buying a Russian-made aircraft carrier.

By cooperating with the US and Japan, India hopes to increase its ability to maintain control in the region.

"It indicates a joint commitment to preserve good order at sea for the benefit of the global maritime community," says Indian Eastern Naval Command Vice Admiral Harish Bisht.

NHK World's Abhishek Dhulia joins Newsroom Tokyo anchors Hideki Nakayama and Aki Shibuya from the New Delhi studio.

Nakayama: As your report shows, India has some concerns about China. What's the recent relationship between the 2 nations?

Dhulia: India’s relationship with China has grown noticeably cold in recent times. Last month, India deployed its troops in the northern state of Sikkim to stop China from constructing a road near their common border. The military stand-off continues, and the media is not allowed to enter the area.

India also boycotted the first international summit on the Belt and Road initiative Forum in Beijing in May. The reason is that Chinese-funded projects in neighboring Pakistan had reached Kashmir, which is claimed by India.

Experts say these factors have generated tension on the border between India and China. If China continues to expand its presence in the Indian Ocean, the conflict could deepen. By cooperating with allies such as the US and Japan, India appears to wish to prevent that escalation.

Shibuya: Japan has participated in the exercise. What does India hope to gain by working with Japan?

Dhulia: Japan and India share an interest in keeping shipping lanes open. India has traditionally protected its frontiers, but it has recently realized that it has not been focusing enough on maritime security. India is starting to expand and improve its sea patrols, and Japan is expected to provide India with suitable technologies.

Experts say India has high expectations of Japan.

"Japan is getting interested in the economics of the Indian Ocean region and it's also becoming a big security player in Indian Ocean. Japan is a growing power and it will have a greater role to play in security activities both in the South China Sea as well as in the Indian Ocean," says the Observer Research Foundation's Head of Maritime Policy Initiative, Abhijit Singh.

Nakayama: Will the relationship between India and China worsen?

Dhulia: India describes itself as “non-aligned” and values its independence, so we'll continue to see it pursue a “multi-directional” foreign policy approach. I don’t expect to see India building a formal alliance with Japan or the US.

And China is a big trading partner, so India wants to avoid any unnecessary conflict. The joint exercise with Japan and the US is meant to halt Chinese expansion in the region, without provoking China.